We are often challenged to understand why an omnipotent and good God could create a world of such hardship, suffering and even cruelty. Why allow evil to exist at all? Couldn’t God have made a world that worked perfectly, without any pain or hardship? All-knowing and all-powerful, he could make sure that everything ran like a perfectly programmed factory, a factory with good robots making more good robots, forever. But he did not.

Eve giving an apple to Adam in the garden of Eden, Catholic Libertarian

In the beginning, man was created with free will, so that he might choose well, or choose badly. In the Genesis account, God set for Adam and Eve a simple test, warning them not to eat the fruit of one particular tree, for if they did, they would surely die. They were free to obey or not; they chose badly. Evil and death came to the human race.

We have heard the story so many times we do not stop to consider how crazy this ought to seem to us. From a human point of view, this is counter-intuitive. When men wish to prevent something bad from happening, they take concrete steps to deter it. If it is in their power to stop something they do not want to happen, they stop it. If they cannot reliably prevent someone from an action, they declare it a crime and punish the offender afterward.

From our point of view, God’s reaction to evil is shockingly different. Unlike man, God has the absolute power to stop evil from happening. He could have stopped evil from the start or at any point thereafter. He need never have made men in the first place. He might have made us so that—like robots—we never acted wrongly, but He did not.

He created man and woman in his own image, with the freedom to choose good or evil. Having made men who could choose evil, He might have decided to punish evil instantly, whenever it occurred, but God did not do that either.

Why did God permit such freedom? The abuse of our free will brings death and sorrow to every generation, so why did an omnipotent and good Creator risk the evil that often results? The Church has always recognized this as a necessary consequence of creating sentient beings in the “image and likeness of God” In the second century, St. Irenaeus wrote:

“Man is rational and therefore like God; he is created with free will and is master over his acts,”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches the very same, but adds that the important thing is that man seek and choose God with complete freedom:

“God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.” 1730

Pope St. John Paul II also emphasized the Church’s rule on individual freedom:

“On her part, the Church addresses people with full respect for their freedom. Her mission does not restrict freedom but rather promotes it. The Church proposes; she imposes nothing.”

Archbishop Fulton Sheen preaching

The Venerable Fulton J. Sheen was an American Catholic archbishop, best known for his television preaching in the 1950s. Sheen taught that human freedom—and with it, the possibility of evil —is essential to the Divine purpose. Men must have the freedom to do good or evil, otherwise, real virtue is not possible.

As Archbishop Sheen wrote:

“Take the quality of freedom away from anyone, and it is no more possible for him to be virtuous than it is for the blade of grass which he treads beneath his feet. Take freedom away from life and there would be no more reason to honor the fortitude of martyrs than there would be to honor the flames which kindle their faggots. Is it any impeachment of God that He chose not to reign over an empire of chemicals? If God has deliberately chosen a kind of empire not to be ruled by force, but by freedom, and if we find his subjects are able to act against his will as stars and atoms cannot, does this not prove He has possibly given to those human beings the chance of breaking allegiance so there might be meaning and purpose in that allegiance when freely chosen.
. . .
“Virtue in its concrete order is possible only in those spheres in which it is possible to be vicious. Man can be a saint only in a world in which it is possible to be a devil.”

A clockwork universe; an empire of chemicals. What could be more pointless to God, who lacks nothing and wants nothing but to love? Love is the only reason he would bring intelligent creatures into existence. Not for his benefit, but for ours; that we might choose to be happy with him forever. It seems free will is necessary to make men who are capable of sharing in God’s life. Only free men can become good men. True virtue requires liberty.


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